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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                     43

On the seventh day Alexei learned where the noise of
a distant battle had come from on that night of the snow-
Utterly worn out, halting every moment to take a rest,
he was dragging himself along the thawing forest road.
The spring was no longer smiling from a distance, it had
arrived in this virgin forest with its warm, gusty winds,
with its bright sun-rays that broke through the branches
and swept the snow from hummock and hillock, with the
mournful croak of the ravens in the evenings, the slow
and staid rooks on the now brownish hump of the road,
the wet snow, now porous like honeycomb, glistening
puddles in the hollows from the melting snow, and that
powerful, intoxicating smell which makes every living
thing giddy with joy,
Alexei had loved this time of the year since his child-
hood, and even now, as he dragged his aching feet encased
in the sodden and bedraggled fur boots through the
puddles, hungry, fainting from pain and weariness, curs-
ing the puddles, the slushy snow and early mud, he
greedily inhaled the moist, intoxicating fragrance. He
no longer picked his way among the puddles, he stumbled,
fell, got up, leaned heavily on his staff, swaying and
mustering his strength, then threw the staff forward as far
as he could and slowly continued on his way eastward.
Suddenly, at a point where the forest road abruptly
turned to the left, he halted and stood transfixed. At a
spot where the road was exceptionally narrow and hedged
in on both sides by closely growing young pines, he saw
the German motor vehicles that had passed him a few
days before. Their road was barred by two huge pines.
Next to these trees, with its radiator lodged between
them, stood the wedge-shaped armoured car, no longer a
patchy white, but a rusty red, and it stood low on the
rims of its wheels, for its tyres had been burnt away. Its
turret was lying on the snow under a tree like a monstrous
mushroom. Near the armoured car lay three corpses—its
crew—in short, black, greasy tunics and cloth helmets.
The two general-purpose cars, also rusty-red and
charred, stood behind the armoured car in the melting